Suchitra Vijayan is the eldest daughter of lawyer-activist K.M. Vijayan and lawyer-turned-homemaker Vasantha Kumari. She earned a bachelor's degree in law — LLB (Honours) — specialising in European Union Law in 2004 from the University of Leeds and was called to the bar by the Honourable Society of Inner Temple in 2005.
She has worked with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague, the War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha and Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance in Cairo.
She is working with the Resettlement Legal Aid Project in Cairo as the legal director and is a researcher at the Centre for Forced Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University, Cairo. A self-taught photographer, Suchitra received the prestigious Nikon Imaging-Emerging Talent Award for 2007.
Her portraits were also shortlisted for the National Geographic International Photography contest. She is the Chief English Editor of Voice, an international student's newspaper (Universiteit Leuven).
She is at present engaged in bringing out a coffee table book titled Others, a compilation of photographs that convey the stories and views of extraordinary and unconventional women living in Egypt.
Excerpts from an interview:
Why call the NGO ‘Lines of Grey'?
That goes back to my love affair with black-and-white photography. ... I learnt about this complex colour, grey, that is caught on the lighter side of black and darker side of white.
Grey is a shade of remarkable gradation. It is its own complement.
LOG represents children who are the product of economic and social injustice. Just as the colour, they live marginalised on the edges of extremes.
Who or what inspired you into photography?
My paternal grandfather, (the late J.M. Kalyanam) inspired me to pursue photography. He never taught me in the traditional sense. He had a steel rack stacked with books and photographs he had taken.
I stumbled upon them one day as a child. There was something about those black-and-white pictures. It was not just the photographs though.
It was what he stood for. He was an atheist and a communist, a freedom fighter and an intellectual. Only he could live by those varied ideologies.
I admired him and was the closest to him among his grandchildren.
The last time I met him, he remarked that I was very much like him. In 2004 he passed away.
After his death, I took up photography seriously. It was my way of keeping him alive.
Tell us about the moments that have touched you.
From Arusha, the one face that stays with me is that of Alex. He was a shy boy who never talked much. But he was exceptionally brilliant.
There was sadness in his eyes that broke my heart. At Cairo, I was fond of Yordanous, an Eritrean minor who fled the Eritrean military service after being persecuted by the army. She is a brave and exceptional young woman.
.The Nikon award.
The picture that won the award was shot in Barcelona in 2006. I noticed this girl by the window and I fell in love with that moment. For the next five minutes, I shot 10-15 frames of her by the window. She was not aware that I was clicking away. It was not about the final picture but about capturing a special moment.
How has your family supported you?
I am nothing without my roots. Only when you are rooted can one travel far. You are aware then that there is a home to go back to. My parents have been my strength and have stood by me always even when my choices were unconventional. I aspire to emulate them.
My fiancé, Ramkumar Rangaswamy, also is my best friend. We have known each other from our school days. He is a research scientist with Google, California. He understands my nomadic streak and allows me to pursue my dreams. In some ways, he is also the sanity in my chaotic life.
What are the future plans for LOG?
I am not sure what the future holds. I am not sure if we can generate enough interest and momentum to sustain the NGO. I am also not sure if it will bring about any sustainable change.
But it is an idea and not just a project. This project runs on the belief that individuals possess the power to make that little difference which will one day become a part of the critical mass required to change the society.
We have plans to expand LOG into a full-fledged arts-and-advocacy NGO that seeks to fill gaps in the government educational system through workshops in art, storytelling, photography and basic skills.
What keeps you going?
Egging me ahead is this quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.''